Introducing Al to strange dogs -- on their turf, or on neutral territory?

I have an invitation to go hiking with 2 Belgian malinois.  Nice mellow dogs, Gwynnie's met them.  Al has not.

Al will occasionally attack another dog -- lunge, snap, press the attack, no blood drawn yet as far as I know --  without any provocation.  Usually it's a larger dog.  Can't say if it's always males.  Some invisible switch flips, and he turns from Dr. Jekyl into Mr. Hyde in an instant.  He'll life a lift first, but he hardly even growls a warning.  He doesn't know how to say "Back off!"

So I have to keep him on a close leash with a careful eye on him.

Would it be better to introduce him to them on neutral territory (at the trailhead), or at their home, on their turf? 

I was invited to drive to their house the night before and crash in the guest room in order to get an early start on a long hike (Al would sleep in his crate if we did this).   I was wondering whether this would be too overwhelming -- he's never met them, it would be their territory, he'd be immersed in their smells, etc.

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My intuition has always been that it's a fear/insecurity thing with Al.  Doesn't always like to be approached.  Resource (ball) guarding is also suspect in some cases.  But in some cases, the other dog did NOTHING that could be construed as a provocation.

It sounds like you are OK with his attacking other dogs who are not initiating aggression.  Whatever his reasons may be, your keeping him off leash is what has allowed the behavior to develop and continue. Your comment that he's a  "son of a bitch"  sounds tongue in cheek, a bit of a joke.  I know you love him very much and he is otherwise a terrific dog, but the owners of the other dogs he puts at risk love their dogs too and those hapless dogs may be just as special to someone.   Had he been the one  aggressed by loose dogs, my guess is you would be singing a different song.

I am very much not OK with this behavior, which began unexpectedly at about 2 years old, perhaps a bit sooner.  His prior good behavior made it all the more insidiously surprising, and because the onset is so sudden, it took me awhile to rule-out provocation by the other dogs.  He is not allowed off-leash with other dogs present.  It is difficult to correct a behavior when it is not understood. 

I am wondering if he could work out a modus vivendi after establishing a pack order with other dogs he knows, and how much acquaintance that would require.

I suspect, but can't be sure, that his attacks are more politcal theater than real intent to do real damage.

Thanks for clarifying. My experience suggests that large breed dogs who have dominant tendency with respect to other dogs will show this trait in spades especially in the 18 to 24 month old time frame.  Since Corgis have growth patters similar to large breed dogs, this could manifest in a similar time frame.   The owner has to really come down hard on them when it first occurs and make it understood that this type of behavior is totally unacceptable for any reason.  If this attitude on the part of the owner is consistent and occasions to succeed in fighting are eliminated, after the age of 2 they seem to calm down and gradually become more civilized/tolerant in the presence of other male dogs.  Good luck.

I should add that when I say dogs, I am specifically talking about males ( not bitches).

It really depends on the dog and it can be hard to determine just by a description.  Madison can sometimes be a bit snarky with other dogs, and her tendency to do things like stare mean that if there is a dog who is going to decide to have a good grump, chances are Maddie will be at the receiving end.

However, she is absolutely trustworthy to walk with other dogs.  She can be off-leash and play with other dogs if there are not balls or frisbees involved.  If there are, she can only be with other dogs who are not offended by her barking and shoving to get to the toy.  She backs off once it's thrown (she's always the lowest in any pecking order) but does crowd the person doing the throwing, even if it means shouldering other dogs to do so.  Therefore we only allow this in controlled situations with dogs we know she gets along with and try to keep the excitement to a dull roar.

But off-leash walking?  She's golden.  On-leash greetings?  Not always so good.

John, the Malinois may be "nice mellow dogs" but most Malinois are fairly intense.   I personally would not put Maddie (who can be less than 100% with other dogs) in a situation to make a fuss against two large dogs who live together.

Al might be the one to force the issue, but I would not bet on the Malinois backing down so easily.  Especially since there are two, and they are housemates.  

As far as Al's behavior, it is my experience that many "reactive" dogs (as it has become fashionable to call them) are indeed reacting to some minor infraction on the other dog's part, but are too quick and too severe in their response.  A minor infraction that might warrant some sort of negotiating signals will draw an over-the-top response instead from a reactive dog.   Think of it as the equivalent of the guy in the bar who gets in someone's face for innocently sloshing a beer or bumping;  sure the person doing the sloshing or bumping was in the wrong initially, but the person at the receiving end might have handled it much better.  

So the other dog might, say, briefly make direct eye contact with Al, or move into his space without making an appeasement gesture, or any number of other minor rudenesses that friendly dogs commit every day, and Al just freaks out on them.  

If we are walking and another dog lunges or barks, Jack (my dog with great doggie social skills) will look away, or sniff the ground, or lie down, or any number of reactions that say "Hey, I'm no threat, I mean you no harm."   Madison (who is not quite so dog-savvy) is likely to lunge or bark back, if left to her own devices (we try to intercept the behavior before it starts).   So the other dog "starts" it, but the dog-savvy dog does his best to defuse the situation, while the other just contributes to ramping it up.  

Many big, goofy dogs like labs have less refined social skills; they tolerate a lot and tend to just sort of bounce right up to other dogs.  It may be that Al has no tolerance for minor infractions like this, so what you see as having no pattern might indeed be precipitated by something specific.

That's not to say it's ok, just a thought on explanation.  I've found that dog behavior is very seldom just random, and as I've learned more and more about dog body language, I see a lot of conversation going on between dogs that I completely missed for years.

I suggest this book as a really great tutorial:

thanks Beth.

This was so helpful a discussion! Took Ein to my friend's house for a visit. Ein was mortally offended when her big lug of a lab (who is also a little blind and deaf) walked a bitthe over Ein's back. Never touch a corgi's back! So the rest of our time there Ein kept snarling at the lab and camped under the picnic table. He kept coming back up to her - so didn't get the signals. Sigh. Hope they learn to get along cause the lab's owner is my margarita drinking buddy and the sun finally came out!

As soon as I opened the car door, Al growled at the Malinois through the bars of his crate.  Then he snarked at them when he was on the ground.  I thought, "This is not going to go well."   Their owner immediately suggested we walk down the street together, and that was OK.  Keep them busy, occupied with other things.  Their owner suggests walking a reactive dog behind the other dog(s) --while keeping them all on a close leash -- giving them an opportunity to sniff butt and get acquainted that way.  We drove to the trailhead, and while AL & Gwynn were eating their breakfast, AL snarked at one of them when he approached a bit too close from behind Al, but it wasn't a really serious snark, and Al did not press the matter.  This was clearly food-guarding (which Al has been observed to do).  Later, on the trail, he lunged and snarled at one of them, but did not press the attack, as he has sometimes done before.

After that, everyrthing went fine all day!  After awhile, I took him off-leash, and he was fine.

I kept him on-leash when we stopped for a couple hours at the summit -- there were food and cliffs around -- but he was cool.

The Malinois were totally calm.  They just turned and walked away when Al was nasty.  I think their non-escalation was significant.  Afterwards, their owner invited us into the yard and their house, and Al was a perfect gentleman.  One of the Malinois had been trained as a security dog, and the owner has done significant behavior-modification with them.  It looks like she knows what she's doing.

Ironically, it was Gwynnie who stole their food.  Never turn your back on a corgi.

Best of all, Al showed no sign of limping, either on the trail or the following morning.  It was a significant hike, some steep terrain and on snow all day (walking on snow is much more arduous than dry ground).  I'm cautiously optimistic about his knee -- he woke up lame on a long backpack last September -- this is only his 3rd hike since then.

So glad Al is doing better. A well balanced dog (as in the Malinois) usually can deal with a little fear based aggression so obviously that made a huge difference. My Sparty was pretty bomb proof when encountering a snarky dog, as long as there was no food involved (if there was food all bets were off), he just ignored them. He was also wonderful with over enthusiatic puppies. Izzy on the other hand is not that calm and would totally return snarks and be in trouble in no time. I often wonder if it is training or temperament that makes the difference but I suspect it is both. I also find that walks with a strange dog in the way of introduction really helps. I am glad your hike went well and Al was a gentlemen. Izzy says "You go girl" to Gwynnie!

I often wonder the same thing Bev...with Livvy. I think it may be both in Livvy's case as her temperament is more extreme than any of my corgis and I never realized until after she was grown up that what I thought with her being around and meeting other dogs was mainly ones she knew vs strange dogs. She's the most loving dog but not toward other dogs...just people and kids.


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